Stories connect people. They inspire, inform and speak to you.
Effective stories work on multiple channels, increase your exposure and amplify your message. They are also a vital element of earning free media exposure.
But what makes a good story? And how do you identify one?
How to identify your story
There are a number of ways you can identify a good story that showcases your institution and the value of studying with you.
Creating a story around something new that has happened is a great way to get a story in the media. It might be a new initiative, a new programme or offering, or a cohort of new students.
New achievements are a great way to leverage stories. Achievements might be an external endorsement of some kind, such as a great score on your i-Graduate survey, or a student achievement from either current students or alumni. It could even extend to an achievement in your community or a national achievement.
Timing it right
The timing of your story is crucial. Your story needs to be topical; it needs to be happening now or tomorrow. You could look to leverage trending topics, but you’ll need to be prepared, or if you’re grabbing an opportunity, you will need to work quickly.
Planning ahead is an option, such as leveraging significant world events, for example, the Olympics. You may even like to time the start of a new programme or activity to align with some key event in the future to make the most of upcoming opportunities.
Making it significant
Stories that get picked up by the media have significance to the audience. It could be a story that affects lots of people, or has local relevance. It could also be a topic that is universal, affecting people the world over.
The word 'glocal' is a combination of global and local. A glocal approach means presenting global knowledge in a local and familiar context. It encapsulates the concept 'think globally, act locally'.
Your story could look to bring something far away to people - such as our country to theirs - or it could relate to something that is very local to them.
Finding the human interest
“Hearts and minds” is the phrase used by journalists when describing a good story. Does your story capture us both emotionally and intellectually? Given our industry’s focus on people, international education is perfectly placed to provide stories that capture people’s hearts and minds. A story about a new programme is unlikely to be of much interest unless there is a student angle or personal story associated to it.
How unique is your story idea? What will trigger people to want to read more? Leveraging New Zealand and our place in the world, our qualities and our quirkiness is a good way to pique people’s interest.
You know a picture paints thousand words. Can you tell your story through images? Can you find a picture that will talk on your behalf / accompany your story?
QUICK TIP: PICTURE FILES
Do not attach huge picture files to an email with your media release; the person on the receiving end will not thank you for it. Instead, let them know you have an awesome high resolution picture ready and waiting for them if they want to use it
The four critical elements of a good story
- 5Ws: A good story will have enough ‘guts’ to it to cover the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” - the key elements to story construction.
- Impact: It will have an impact on the reader - so be timely, topical and relevant enough for them to want to read.
- Context: There will be a strong context for your story - both the background of the story and the things that are related to it.
- Hearts and minds: It will aim to capture hearts and minds - the emotional elements will show the human side of the story and help the readers understand it.
Case study - The Cortext Cast Design
Here’s an example of a New Zealand story that got great local and international media coverage; the story of the Cortex cast design.
READ SOME OF THE COVERAGE HERE:
Kiwi designer creates 3D-printed exoskeleton for broken bones.
Is This 3-D Printed Cast the Future of Healing Broken Bones?
Read full case study
Is this the plaster cast of the future? Designer uses 3D printing to create tailor-made exoskeleton to help heal broken bones
Read full case study
Let’s break it down and see why it was so popular:
- It’s innovative - just look at it; what a transformation from those hefty plaster casts.
- It’s relevant to you - if you haven’t broken a bone yourself, then you’ll very likely know someone who has.
- It’s universal - everyone around the world can relate to this.
- It has a great picture - say no more.
What else is it doing?
Without being obvious about it, it’s promoting two key things to the reader. It’s showcasing New Zealand’s world-leading innovation alongside an institution and their course of study.
Notice how this is done within the story: Has the person writing the release needed to push their institutional excellence? Or have they let the story do this for them?
The same story has also been told in a range of different ways. Compare the stories above to see how the story has been written, and how the heading, the lead-ins and the rest of the content has been handled.
Check out the headings - they’re snappy, they draw you in:
“Is this 3D printed cast the future of healing broken bones?” - wired.com
“Kiwi designer creates 3D-printed exoskeleton for broken bones” - nzherald.co.nz
And the first paragraph lead-ins - they build on the heading, they’re personalised to you, and they’re fun and they draw you in so you want to read more:
“If you’ve ever had a broken limb, you know how unpleasant a cast can be. They’re bulky, uncomfortable and are basically a blank canvas for embarrassing sketches from your friends. But the plaster and fiberglass variety is also cheap and, frankly, good enough to not prompt much investment in innovation.” - wired.com
“Itchy, odorous plaster casts could be banished to the realms of childhood memory thanks to a Kiwi design student's radical concept for a 3D-printed exoskeletal cast.” - nzherald.co.nz
Case study - The Ribena Girls
Check out this story from a few years ago on two international students studying in a New Zealand school who discovered that ready-to-drink Ribena contained almost no trace of vitamin C
The story got great coverage here and overseas.
And it got great follow up.
This story has all the elements of great promotion for New Zealand education, and for the education provider involved. Without explicitly saying it, it showcases innovation in our education system, it shows that we don’t sit down student to rote learning, we support them to think for themselves - and look at the results!
Read through the articles and think what you might have done with this story. Was there scope for more of the voice of the provider in these articles? How would you have leveraged promotion of your institution through this story (without being too overt about it). It got great pick-up by some major media outlets, but what about local ones?
Brainstorm ideas with students and colleagues
Now that you’re aware of the key elements that comprise a good story, and how you could leverage it to best effect, hold a brainstorming session with staff and with students to generate some ideas for possible stories.
Keep it broad and think about the types of places you might be able to get stories published.
- Do you have a large group of students from a particular region of a country that you could profile? You could then pitch a story to media from that region.
- Do you have any alumni doing interesting things either here or back in their home country?
- Are you planning on running a new course or programme at some stage soon that you could promote?
Let the ideas flow and then draw out the best ones to start working on.
- Know how to assess whether your story is good - is it new, topical, glocal (a combo of local and global), unique?
- Get some good images to go with your story
- Understand the four critical elements to a good story - the 5Ws, impact, hearts and minds, and context
- Brainstorm ideas for stories with your students and colleagues